SEC Friday mailbag

You ask, and we do our best to answer. It’s time to empty out the SEC mailbag:

Paul in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Chris, I heard where you said (Will) Muschamp had done a good job of building the Florida program back up. Building the program back up? Urban (Meyer) won two national championships there and pulled in one top-rated recruiting class after another. Muschamp inherited great talent. There shouldn’t have been any need to build the program back up, as you say.

Chris Low: Yes, Meyer left some "highly rated" talent there on paper, but he also left some serious issues that Muschamp had to clean up. Meyer, himself, said it was a “broken” football team when he left following the 2010 season. More than anything, I think a sense of entitlement had set in, and the program had gotten soft. A lot of those five-star players that Meyer brought in thought they were going to show up and be rock stars without having to invest a whole lot. One of the best moves Muschamp made was to send Janoris Jenkins packing after multiple drug-related run-ins with the law. It sent a very clear message to the rest of the team that the days of coddling stars at Florida were over. Meyer’s run at Florida from 2006-09 was incredible. But it got away from him there at the end, and what Muschamp has done is build this program back in his image -- a tough, blue-collar football team that’s always going to be physical and is committed to running the football.

Chris in Seattle writes: Chris, would you agree that Auburn has a coaching problem? This team has strung together some very highly rated recruiting classes. There is talent on this team, but we seem unable to develop these guys and get the most out of individual players. It is difficult to believe how things have gotten so bad, and unlike other SEC teams, we keep using youth as an excuse.

Chris Low: The Tigers have reeled in some highly rated classes, but go back and look at how many of the players in those classes are either no longer at Auburn or simply haven’t panned out. Recruiting rankings are only an indicator. They’re hardly a guarantee. We’ll see how this season plays out. Auburn needs to make a stand at home Saturday against LSU and at least compete in that game. There is new blood on the coaching staff -- offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Both put in new systems, so it’s probably not fair to make definitive evaluations this early in the season. In sum, I just don’t think Auburn is nearly as talented as some of the recruiting rankings would lead you to believe over the past few years, and the most disappointing thing is how much the Tigers have struggled on defense. If Auburn is sitting there at 6-6 or worse at season’s end, hard as it is to believe after winning a national championship two years ago, Gene Chizik could be in some trouble. Welcome to life in the SEC.

Kyle in Athens, Ga., writes: Time to proclaim a changing of the guard at running back in the SEC: Todd Gurley has 276 yards on 28 carries and four TDs. Marcus Lattimore has 235 yards on 48 carries.

Chris Low: I noticed you left off the fact that Lattimore also has four touchdowns. Listen, how can you not be impressed with Gurley and his blend of size, speed and power? Georgia just seems to churn out those guys at running back. But I’m not ready to bail on Lattimore. The Gamecocks haven’t really needed him the past two weeks, so his carries have been limited. He did rush for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against a very solid Vanderbilt defense. You’re measured in this league by how you fare against SEC defenses. Let’s reconvene on this subject in late November. I will leave you with this little tidbit: Lattimore has played in three career games against South Carolina’s two biggest Eastern Division rivals, Florida and Georgia, and has rushed for a total of 570 yards and six touchdowns in those three games.

Jonathan in Pickens, S.C., writes: What makes the hit that D.J. Swearinger made on the play in the UAB game any different from the hit Vanderbilt’s Andre Hal made on Justice Cunningham in the opener, or the hit the UT defender made on the Georgia State quarterback? From watching both replays, the reasoning the SEC gave seemed to indicate they were talking about the Hal hit, not the Swearinger hit. However, the opposite was true. I’ve got no problem with the rule and the suspension. I do have a problem with the selective enforcement by the SEC.

Chris Low: You and every coach in the SEC. I didn’t see the hit you’re talking about involving the Tennessee defender. I was in Nashville for the South Carolina-Vanderbilt game and saw Hal’s hit on Cunningham. I agree that it looked almost identical to Swearinger’s hit ,and the one Ole Miss’ Trae Elston was suspended for last week. The intent of the rule is to protect defenseless players and not have somebody take their head off whether they’re leading with their helmet, shoulder or forearm. I like the rule. But now that the precedent has been set, the league needs to be consistent when handing down suspensions.

Matt in Richmond, Va., writes: What about AJ McCarron as a Heisman candidate? I would think he deserves to be mentioned.

Chris Low: Agreed, and I think he will get even more mention as Alabama continues to win and he plays as flawlessly as he has to this point. McCarron has thrown 151 consecutive passes without an interception going back to the Mississippi State game last season. This season, he’s completing 64.3 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. There’s no doubt McCarron plays behind a great offensive line, but his ability to make throws down the field combined with his decision-making and command of the Tide’s offense make him one of the better quarterbacks in the college game. I guarantee you Nick Saban wouldn’t trade him for another quarterback right now.

Seth in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Did Tennessee shoot all of its bullets in that first half against Florida, or can the Vols still be a factor in the East race this season?

Chris Low: The frustrating thing for Tennessee fans is that the Vols looked like a genuine Eastern Division contender for two and a half quarters last weekend in what was a great environment at Neyland Stadium, and then wilted when the Gators stepped it up in the third quarter. This has not been a program that has responded well to any kind of adversity under Derek Dooley, and that’s a huge concern. Tennessee simply hasn’t been able to get it done in the second half, and that’s where games are won in this league. The Vols have enough talent to still make some noise in the East, but they have to be mentally tougher. Seeing is believing. That trip to Mississippi State on Oct. 13 looms large. That’s the swing game for the Vols, in my mind, if they’re going to win eight or more this season.